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The APA 6th Edition, Section 3.18 mandates that writers use active voice for clarity. Many writers use this type of voice in writing academic papers because it allows the reader to clearly distinguish the subject of the sentence and the action performed.

Active voice is usually applied when writers wish to emphasize the “doer” of an action without confusing the reader. For articles, the active voice is especially useful when the writer wishes to express their stance on a certain debatable topic while allowing the reader to consider a different point of view.

While active voice is preferred over passive voice, there are some instances when the passive form can elevate a work’s quality. However, before we include those phrases in our essays, we must first pay close attention to the verb tenses chosen to avoid inconsistencies.

Here are some instances on when a writer may opt to use passive voice:

  • When the “doer” is already introduced. Most writers use the first paragraph of the essay to introduce a topic to the reader. In this section, active voice is preferred as it helps the reader distinguish the doer of the action and any achievements listed thereafter. Once the writer has established the important “doers” of the essay, the passive voice may be used to add a touch of creativity and prevent the flow of the paper from becoming monotonous.
  • When the doer is unknown. This can be applied to research papers or discoveries whose writers or explorers are unknown.Example: “Cave paintings that were recently discovered showed the progression of the neolithic people’s way of life.”
  • When the focus is on the action rather than the doer. Passive voice works when we wish to focus on the action as the subject. This is usually used with gerund phrases.Example: “Drinking coffee has been shown to add multiple benefits for one’s health.”

  • When the focus is on the recipient of the action rather than the doer.
    The passive voice may be used when the writer wishes to focus on the receiver of the action rather than the doer.Example: “Tardy employees that were reported by HR management were immediately given a pay reduction.”

While the passive voice has been shown to be useful for creative purposes, writers should remember to use these phrases/sentences sparingly. Constant use of passive voice can lead to wordiness and ambiguity, resulting in reader confusion. Writers should carefully examine their work and remove all unnecessary phrases to maintain flow and keep the essay understandable and succinct.

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